Oh friends, the world here is still monochrome, but the weather has been above freezing almost every day, so the snow is melting drip by drip. There is a little more bare ground in the garden than when I took the photo of the chickens last week, but there is still quite a lot of it. The chickens are happy right now though because they get to come out more often, and each day there is a tiny bit more muddy ground for them to scratch on. The ground is still frozen below the muddy top though, and their scratching doesn’t do much other than make their feet filthy, but we all must take our happiness as we can.
The snow has melted enough from around a few of the trees that James and I were able to start the spring pruning. It’s late to be doing it, the maples are starting to flower and buds are swelling on most trees and shrubs, but it’s not easy to prune a tree while standing in two feet of snow.
We were able to give the elderberry a major pruning. A book I read last week, Trees of Power by Akiva Silver (thanks alerting me to this Eliza Daley!), says that elderberries can be cut to the ground every year. I have never cut a tree back to the ground and am rather terrified to do it. Cutting the elderberry back as much as we did has me worried I have deprived the chickens of their favorite shady summer hangout since I sawed off all of the horizontal branches and left only four upright ones. And I know I should cut the upright ones back further than I did, but I can’t bring myself to do it. If everything grows out just fine this summer, I will feel much more confident doing a harder prune next year.
We started pruning the apple trees in the front yard, but we need to bring out a ladder to finish the job and there is too much snow and ice yet for a ladder to be safe. Hopefully by next weekend.
The hardest cut of all was on Professor Plum. I was not a good tree protector this winter and Invader Rabbit chewed the bark off all around the trunk. I sawed off the whole tree just below where the rabbit ate, a little over a foot above the ground. Because the tree is not very old, Professor has a chance to re-tree by putting out buds from the trunk below the cut or sending new shoots up from the ground. There is one tiny little upright side branch just below the cut, perhaps that will be where Professor chooses to grow from. The Professor’s feet are still covered in snow, so it will be a few weeks yet before anything is likely to begin sprouting.
We still need to cut back the grape—that I have confidence giving a hard prune. We did last year after I learned grapes fruit on new growth, and it turned out to be true. We had so many grapes that a large flock of sparrows got to enjoy before I realized what was happening. This year some bird netting is in order. The witch hazel and hazelnut also need a good, hard prune. But more snow needs to melt before we can get to all of these.
The onions are growing great and I am so happy. I talk to them everyday when I visit them to check how they are doing. Last weekend I seeded indoors French marigolds from seed I saved last year. I also planted seeds for a habanero pepper. They are too hot for my liking, but I got the seeds for free and James like hot so if we get any he can enjoy them. I planted several mini chocolate bell peppers too. We don’t have much luck with bell peppers and the few times we have gotten a pepper, a squirrel took it just before it was ripe. We are hoping we have better luck with these little ones.
And finally, I seeded several pots with cape gooseberry. They are basically upright ground cherries. I love ground cherries but they take up a lot of space as they spread out, so I’ve only ever grown one plant and eat the fruit the moment I pick them. I can grow several of the upright cape gooseberries and I hope to get enough fruit to make some jam. Unless I can’t keep myself from eating everything when I pick them!
Through a roundabout way I discovered Sand Hill Preservation Center in Iowa last week. James had asked if we can grow sweet potatoes here (even though he doesn’t like them, I do, especially made into “butter”). I thought I had seen sweet potatoes offered at the annual plant sale we go to, so I checked, and yes, you can buy a plant for $3 which seems a bit pricey given sweet potatoes are pretty inexpensive. But they had a link on their item catalog page to Sand Hill’s website instructions on how to grow sweet potatoes, so I went and took a look at it.
Now just before this I had read a chapter about sweet potatoes in a fantastic book I am reading at lunch called The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray. You might know Janisse from her book Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which I haven’t read but recall it being popular at one time. She is a seed saver of the major sort, searching out and preserving old seed varieties. Anyway, I learned there are a lot of different kinds of sweet potatoes and I was fascinated since I have only seen one kind of orange one, a white one, and a purple Japanese variety at my food co-op.
When I landed at the Sand Hill site I was primed. Let’s see how many varieties they have. Would you believe they sell 259 varieties? I immediately decided to buy slips from them instead of a plant at the plant sale. But how do I decide which one? I sent them a rather giddy email saying how excited I am to try growing sweet potatoes, that I have a small garden in Minneapolis, and I want something sweet and creamy. They emailed me back with several recommendations. Of course I couldn’t choose just one! I ordered six slips of the excitingly named 8633, and six slips of Ginseng Red. Because sweet potatoes are extremely sensitive to cold, they will not arrive for planting until early June. Such a long time to wait!
Another book I just finished reading is called Landrace Gardening by Joseph Lofthouse. He calls himself a food shaman and his book is wonderfully quirky and full of useful and important information. If you are new to gardening, this is not the place to start for seed saving; not that it’s so advanced and complicated, but he assumes you have the basics of gardening firmly mastered as he burbles along through his adventures in creating landrace seeds.
You may be asking, what’s a landrace? A landrace is a genetically diverse seed that is adapted and selected by the farmer/gardener for their specific growing conditions and needs. For instance, after reading this book, I would really like to try creating my own landrace tomato that I can direct sow in May that will be good for making sauce and is not subject to blossom end rot.
Years ago I was making a landrace garden pea without knowing what landraces were. Spring starts off cool but increasingly we are getting really hot days in May. Peas like cool weather and the sudden heat would make them stop producing. But I saved seeds from ones that kept producing in the heat and would replant those every year along with a new batch of fresh seed. After several years I was getting more and more peas that were doing pretty well when several days of sudden heat arrived. But three years ago a rabbit ate every single pea plant. I hadn’t thought to save any seed for contingencies so the landrace I had going was completely wiped out. Now I know better. And I am excited to start again with peas. And tomatoes. And when I figure out what kinds of beans I truly want to devote myself to, those will be in the mix as well.
With all the reading about gardening and seeds I’ve been doing, when the Vernal Equinox arrived, we decided that our holiday dinner needed to be composed of mainly seeds. Lots of people think of eggs and rabbits (grrr!) as spring symbols, but I realized, for me it’s seeds. James is such a good and creative cook he 100% pulled it off. I’m not even sure exactly everything he had going on, but is involved pepitas, sunflower seeds, tempeh (soy beans and rice), and a few other seeds from the pantry, mixed with chopped kale and served with a seed-based dressing. It was delicious and will never be replicated, which made it even more special.
- All the books mentioned above
- Podcast: War on Cars: Conspiracy! Have you heard about the 15-minute city? It’s a planning idea that has been around for awhile that says a livable city should be one in which all the things you need most can be had within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. It’s a marvelous idea. However, right-wing conspiracy folks have taken it up and have turned it into a government plan to lock you into your house and not allow you to leave without permission. The podcast does a great job at discussing what is going on. If you have no time for the podcast, the Forbes has an article on 15 minute city and conspiracy theories.
- Xena: Warrior Princess. An oldie but a goodie. The camp! The historical inaccuracies! The Trojan horse was made out of bamboo! Gotta love it.